Healthy Living

Winter Weight Gain: Why it Happens, What to Do

Dec. 1, 2016

Shorter days, longer nights, cold weather, decreased exercise and changes in sleep habits all contribute to winter weight gain. When you add in the abundance associated with holiday meals and our tendency to overeat at special occasions, many of us enter the New Year a few pounds heavier than we were before Thanksgiving.African-American couple walking outdoors in winter

UR Medicine Primary Care’s Dr. Michael Gavin offers advice for avoiding winter weight gain.

  • Curb your cortisol: Lack of sleep and stress can produce high levels of cortisol—sometimes referred to as the “stress hormone”—which can make it particularly difficult to lose weight. If you’re overtired, or tense and worried, you may be more likely to overindulge—especially when excessive amounts of food are available. Getting the proper amount of rest is good for overall physical and emotional health. And some stress-busting techniques, like deep breathing, exercise, and carving out some time for yourself can go a long way toward helping you cope. However, if you find that stress is getting the best of you, seek help from your health care provider.
  • Make your move now: While exercise is important throughout the year, you may be tempted to skip it in the midst of holiday bustle or postpone it until after the new year begins. The time to start an exercise routine is now. And the way to fit exercise in to a busy life is to schedule it as you do any other important task. Add it to your calendar and set reminders for it, like it’s a meeting that you can’t miss. While exercise hasn’t been consistently shown to prevent winter weight gain, it may help you cope with stress, improve your sleep, and at least curb some of the calories. It will also put you in a better position to lose some weight post-holidays.
  • Tackle your temptations: Most of us have holiday favorites that are hard to resist. (For me, it’s cut-out cookies!) Good habits and motivations may help; if you’re already being mindful about what you eat and are getting regular exercise, you may be more likely to resist overeating during the holidays and potentially carrying that habit into the new year. However, resistance is sometimes futile. It’s okay to indulge, as long as it’s with some sort of moderation. Keeping treats and meals portioned is a good strategy for curbing some of the calories. (For example, allowing yourself a couple cookies and making a point to savor them can be very satisfying.) Not keeping treats close at hand, either at home or work is also helpful throughout the year. If it’s not around, it will be less tempting.

On average, people gain 1 to 3 pounds during the holidays, with the main culprits being sugary treats and overindulgence, stress, changes in sleep habits and less exercise. Taking action now may help you combat those extra winter pounds and contribute to a healthy year ahead.

Michael Gavin, MD


Michael J. Gavin, M.D., cares for adults and children at UR Medicine Primary Care Tow Path Family Medicine and is welcoming new pediatric patients. Call (585) 758-0800.